Why is the Start of My Run so Hard?

I have uttered these words to myself many, many times and I hear lots of beginner runners saying the same thing.

You start running but you can’t find any rhythm, everything seems to ache, any old injury seems to come back to the fore and occupies your thoughts.  It seems like every step is SO hard and you are constantly thinking about turning around, going home and getting back into bed, whilst thinking, “I was never any good at this running thing anyway…”

Sound familiar?

This first 10-20 minutes is what stops so many people from becoming athletes or enjoying running.  In fact it is so troublesome, that some people find this as the number one challenge that they face as a beginner.   I recently asked people what their number one challenge as a beginner runner was and here are some of the responses that came back.

“I can’t figure out how to get past the 500 metre mark without stopping”

“When I started I could only run for 30 seconds and I’d need over 2 minutes to recover from that.

“When I first went for a planned ‘run’, ie. not just running for the bus, I could easily do a good pace for about 500m. After that I had to stop.”

“Getting past that first km. When I first started running I’d give up after the first 600-700m because I hated it, I’d get puffed and end up walking the rest of the way.”

So frustrating!!

However, the good news is that this is common amongst runners and triathletes of all levels.  Whether you are experienced or a complete beginner, this seems to happen to us all.  The problem is that if we let this first 10 minutes beat us, it will put us off going again. We then leave it too long in between runs to build up fitness and gain confidence, so we start all over again each time we go out.  I suspect that all runners and triathletes of all levels will be able to relate to this pattern, but why do we struggle in the first 10 minutes and what can we do about it?


Why does this happen?

The simple answer is that during the first 10-20 minutes you tend to struggle as your body and the muscles you are attempting to use, are still warming up.  You might also still be stiff from a previous workout, or if you run in the mornings, stiff, dehydrated and half asleep from being in bed all night.  When you go for a run, you are basically asking your body to perform at a higher level than has been for the past few hours, and that doesn’t usually happen without a little warming up first.

So what do I do?

Here are my two tips for getting through the first part of your run.  They are annoyingly simple…

  1. Warm up. I would suggest that you treat the first 10 minutes as a free ‘warm up’.  Run slowly, slower than you would do normally. If you are not yet running for 10 minutes, walk.  That is absolutely fine. Just let everything loosen up and warm up, accepting that it might be slightly uncomfortable. You shouldn’t really be doing hard efforts during that first 10 minutes of your run anyway as your muscles aren’t ready.  You would be risking injury and I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t perform as well as you could have.   Now, a few of the Garmin gang (yes, you!) will have a problem with this approach as it is going to screw with their overall time and their overall pace.  I have two words for you…. “push LAP.”  Start your watch when you first begin running, then push LAP at the end of your 10 minutes warm up and just keep going. This will separate the two sections of your run, so that when you dissect your Garmin stats later, you can see the difference.  If this is something that you do, I would encourage you to look at the difference in pace between your warm up and the main running section.  There should be a marked difference in pace with the warm up being slower.
  2. Run Slower.  If you read the quotes at the beginning of this article, they all have one thing in common.  Stopping. Essentially, rather than trying to run like you are still a kid and smashing out the fastest first 200 metres ever, then stopping, try to run slower but further.  Go slower than you can run to start with and then continue at that pace.  Your breathing will be slower and more controlled, your legs will scream less and you will be able to run further.  Who knows, you may even enjoy it!?!  If you are someone that looks at your pace as you run, then try running 30-45 seconds per/km slower.  If you don’t have a watch or use pace, try to run what ‘feels easy,’ to you, no matter how slow that is.

Remember that today, you don’t have to match your previous fitness levels, or run a marathon in 3 hours.  Today is about getting through that first stage of the run and keeping going.  We are playing a longer term, patient game here and we need to prioritise injury prevention and training consistency in order to get to where we want to be.  Try warming up and running slower and see how you get on!

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